Say what you will about the Makers’ hedonistic raison d’etre, but there’s no denying the band’s dedication to its craft. After nearly 15 years as a working unit, the opening lines of “Matter of Degrees” — the leadoff track on Everybody Rise! –reveal a commitment to a lifestyle that probably should have done them in before the turn of the century. Haters may not want to rule out the possibility that Michael Maker’s lyrical content is spiced up with a healthy dose of fiction, but even if he hasn’t truly lived this stuff, he has absorbed his New York Dolls records to the point of personality crisis — on the basis of sheer audacity, he gets the benefit of the doubt.
As the band’s first album of new material since 2002’s Strangest Parade, Everybody Rise! is a milestone of sorts. For most groups, a new drummer poses the potential to offer a healthy dose of invigoration; Aaron Saye, the band’s third skinsman, fulfills that promise by bringing fresh energy to the Makers’ propulsive core. More importantly, the return of original guitarist Tim Maker (credited here as “Timothy Killingsworth”) swells the band to a dual-guitar quintet for the first time in its career, and the interplay between Maker/Killingsworth and Jamie Frost provides exhilarating moments even on the dullest, most cliché-ridden tracks.
It’s true: gone are the cellos, female backup singers, and half-baked unifying concepts of the Makers’ recent LPs. Everybody Rise! is the product of a largely unassisted rock ‘n’ roll band with guitar work that recalls Slash and Izzy Stradlin’s finest riff-transcending moments when Guns N’ Roses still had an appetite. But if only it were that simple; or, perhaps better said, if only it were an instrumental album. Because as solid as the band is instrumentally, Michael Maker’s lyrical pedestrianism threatens to completely undermine the group’s musical accomplishments. On a handful of tracks, he even succeeds.
“Matter of Degrees” has the unfortunate honor of being the first victim, as Maker fuses the vocal melody from “Bang a Gong” with inanities like “I’m gettin’ to bone ya tonight”. The lyrical nonsense is extended by one of the record’s few musical missteps, “Sex Is Evil (When Love Is Dead)” — an ill-advised exercise in Marilyn Manson-style cabaret waltz — and “She Walks In Color”, which puts lines like “She’ll make me blow like a cannonball” to tight GN’R sleaze-funk. But the worst offender, hands-down, is “Tiger of the Night”, a ditty about — what else? — prowling for women, complete with whispered “tiger” vocals on the chorus. Imagine your very first band’s very first original song and you scrape the surface of how dreadful this one is.
OK, so it’s not all high school innuendo spewed forth by a guy who must be closing in on his 20-year reunion: In a rare highlight, “Good as Gold” seethes with sensuality in a way that most of the other tracks can only aspire to, though the band might not be able to avoid Cat Stevens’ litigious wrath for the song’s bridge section. Maker is also sufferable on “It Takes a Mighty Heart”, another exhibit of the guitarists’ tandem brilliance that also shows the group’s continued affinity for Stax-Volt influenced soul rave-ups. Oddly enough, buried in all that testosterone is an impressive gift for rock balladry as well, glimpsed in no less than three mellow cuts: The Raspberry pop of “Run With Me Tonight”; “Ordinary Human Love”, which fuses Bowie’s falsetto and melodicism with Jagger and Richards’ comedown bliss without sounding too explicitly like either; and the Ziggy Stardust gospel of the closing “Promises for Tomorrow”.
In the end, all that saves Everybody Rise! from its own self-indulgence is its vintage 36-minute running time. But if you have a high tolerance for pedantic tales of skirt-chasing, get really excited when L.A. Guns reunites, or have access to a vocal-masking karaoke machine — at least for half of these tracks — then, by all means, rise to the occasion and meet the Makers.